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How Much Do I Care About Amazon and Macmillan?

As I was reading my daily blog circuit, I asked myself, “How much do I care about this Amazon and Macmillan thing, anyway?”  After thinking it over for a while, I decided that I care quite a bit.  Enough for a blog post, even, and everyone knows that if it’s blog worthy, then it is vital.

So what is the Amazon-Macmillan thing, anyway?  The short version is that Macmillan said that it wants to sell its ebook-for-the-Kindle at prices up to $15, and that’s $5 more than Amazon has set the price at.  Amazon’s reaction was to pull all Macmillan ebooks, hardcovers, and softcovers from its store – no sales.  After a couple days Amazon publicly relented, but the store still isn’t back to normal.

First, I’ll give two reasons that I don’t care about.  I don’t care about is the Kindle.  I hate the Kindle’s DRM, and I’m mildly surprised that so many otherwise-astute customers are willing to go along with it.  Why on earth would you “buy” a copy of a book that Amazon can remotely remove from your possession without your consent ?  You can pry my books out of my cold, dead hands is the way I feel about that type of thing.

The second thing I don’t care about is the price increase.  One company is trying to keep prices low so that it can create a huge marketshare useful for future profits.  One company wants to have a higher profit margin on bestselling books.  I couldn’t possibly care less which one wins; they’re both trying to extract money out of me.

Here’s what I do care about: my relationship with Amazon.  I’ve been their customer since 1998.  (I even worked for them for a while in ’98-’99, when they bought  I use them because they’re easy and they have a decent price.  I use them for their recommendations.  I use them to let me know when my favorite authors and bands have new releases.  I use them to complete trilogies and to find the early releases of my new favorite bands.  I order from them so much that I bought Amazon Prime for $79/year, which gives me free shipping.  Think about what my order volume is, given that I would spend more than $79 in shipping!

But I love my John Scalzi.  I love my Charles Stross.  I love my Orson Scott Card, Vernor Vinge and Neal Asher.  And Amazon isn’t giving them to me!  What kind of book store would I go to that wouldn’t sell me these authors?  What kind of recommendation engine would skip these authors who have provided me with so many hours of amusement?  The answer is: not one that I want to spend a lot of time in.

I’m not going so far as to boycott Amazon.  When they have what I want at the right price, I’ll still buy it.  But they’re no longer my go-to vendor.  They’re no longer the place I go to find the new album or the new book that will keep me interested.  I don’t trust them to give me the right answer anymore.  I now know that they’re willing to throw away 1/6 of my bookshelf in order to wield pricing power on a product that I’ll never buy. Amazon broke my trust this weekend, and I’m no longer interested in what they think I’ll find interesting.

I logged in to Amazon tonight and set my Amazon Prime to non-renewal status.  They didn’t ask why.  I guess I know why not: they don’t care about what I want, anyway.


Comment from Antonio Rodriguez
Time: February 3, 2010, 8:06 am

Spot on re: Amazon, but you tell me when you find another online book & music store that is as convenient and affordable so that I can go there with you.

Comment from Jeff Yaus
Time: February 3, 2010, 12:21 pm

Yeah, check out

Also, the line “everyone knows that if it’s blog worthy, then it is vital” made my day.

Comment from Neal Asher
Time: February 4, 2010, 6:21 am

Just a note: Macmillan want a price range from $15 down to $5 – sell them high when they’re hot and low when they’re not. It’s all about who has the power really: various book publishers or the single biggest internet retailer.

I suggest you go to The Book Depository which has free (international) shipping anyway.

Glad you like the books!

Comment from Alex
Time: February 4, 2010, 5:40 pm

I was expecting a satisfying screed about how the greedy publishing companies are pulling an RIAA and making it so that their soon-to-be-former customers will be thrilled to watch them go out of business.

I was surprised to see this, because I’m completely on Amazon’s side. Why shouldn’t Amazon be able to set whatever price they want for an eBook sale to me? Amazon was already paying the publisher whatever price the publisher wanted to set. If the publisher wanted to charge Amazon $60 per eBook, they had the right to do that. If they wanted to charge Amazon $2.50 per eBook, they had the right to do that. Amazon was paying, on average, $16 per bestseller eBook that they were selling for $9.99. They were losing money because they wanted to sell more Kindles.

The dispute happened because MacMillian decided that they would refuse to let Amazon sell eBooks unless MacMillian controlled the transaction between ME and Amazon. Not the transaction between Amazon and themselves (which they should be able to set prices for) but for a transaction they have no business controlling, because they’re not a party to it. If they want to set up their own eBook store and sell Kindle-compatible eBooks for $7.99, there’s nothing stopping them. Instead, they want to use their leverage to bully Amazon. And Amazon pushed back. If Scalzi and Stross (and Brandon Sanderson, who I tried to buy a book from a couple days back) don’t like it, they should pick a publisher that’s less of an asshole.

BTW, I’m a very satisfied Kindle owner – it makes traveling REALLY nice when you only need to carry one lightweight device that holds 100 books instead of 2-3 paperbacks.

It also works just fine with ebooks from Project Gutenberg, or ebooks from any other seller who wants to sell books for it, or self-published books, or whatever.

Comment from dunster
Time: February 4, 2010, 6:44 pm

Neal – Thank you for visiting my site! I love your books – keep writing, and I’ll keep buying. Maybe you need a new villain on Spatterjay – the Bezos!

Alex – I think you totally missed my point. I couldn’t give two shits about the Amazon-Macmillan spat, and I couldn’t care less what the price of an ebook is. This is about my relationship with Amazon. I (once) trusted Amazon to provide me with a selection of the best books available. Amazon has demonstrated that it is not trustworthy. End of story.

(That said, I think your depiction of Macmillan as the bully is pretty silly. Who withdrew what? Who denied access? Who pulled products A and B from the shelves in a price dispute on product C? The bully did).